Coffee House Etiquette

Sep 19, 2012|

No elbows on the table.  Chew with your mouth closed.  Place a napkin on your lap after being seated.

Basic table dining etiquette is ingrained into us from a young age, unfortunately mom and dad didn't teach us about coffee house etiquette.  Is it the same as dining etiquette?  

Is it rude to ask what a drink is if I don't understand?  How much do I tip?   Do I just leave my ceramic mug on the table after I am finished?

 Well, I went straight to the experts in the coffee industry to gain some insight about coffee house etiquette.   Each person I interviewed has been in the coffee industry for many years and offered me helpful insight and tips to master coffee house etiquette.  

Before we get into the DO & DON'TS of coffee house etiquette please meet the coffee professionals.


Meet Caty Rentmeester:   Also known as "Caty Rent."  Caty lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and currently is the Manager/Roaster/Coffee Enthusiast for the Dunn Bros Coffee Laboratory in Saint Paul.  Caty started her career with Dunn Bros as barista in 2007.  She later started roasting and became manager in 2010.  Caty is intrigued by anything coffee related and is constantly learning more about it by reading coffee books, magazines and blogs.  Roasting is one of her favorite parts of her job.

Besides coffee, Caty likes Batman.  (Some people might say she has a slight obsession.  Her cat is named Bruce Wayne.)

In her spare time Caty enjoys long walks, bubble baths, reading, and watching cartoons. 

Her job before coming to Dunn Bros was a snake wrangler at Twin Cities Reptiles.




Meet  Jason Dominy: Jason has been in coffee for 16 years. He's had positions opening and managing coffee shops, roasting, training, and now works for Batdorf & Bronson Coffee in Atlanta, as Wholesale Support and Outreach Coordinator. He's been active in the SCAA for the past 5 years, on the Training Committee/Professional Development Committee, volunteering with the SCAA in trainings and labs, and most recently, previous Chair of the Barista Guild's Executive Council. He spends his time with Batdorf & Bronson getting the message of exceptional coffee out to consumers all over Atlanta  and the country. 



 Meet Sarah Dooley:  Sarah has worked in various retail careers finding herself settling in coffee.  Occupying in many different positions over the years, barista, manager, trainer, educator, community coordinator and sales, she currently is working for an espresso machine distributor, La Marzocco USA, as a coffee community educator and sales.  Sarah volunteers with the Barista Guild of America as an Executive Council member. 

 *Picture taken by Kirk Mastin, Barista Magazine APR/MAY 2012 Issue






What if you don't understand what a particular menu item is?

Caty: "Please ask questions. I definitely try to encourage them. We want you to know what you are ordering and for you to be happy with it. "


Jason:  "Please ask.  The barista should be able to address any questions you have and help you determine what you are looking for. "


Sarah: "Consumers should feel comfortable to ask questions about what a menu item means."  

Is using a cell phone while ordering appropriate?

Caty: "Personally, I don't believe that it is appropriate because there can be ordering mistakes when that occurs. It also seems pretty rude because as a barista, I want to be treated like a person."


Jason: "When you are talking on the cell phone you are not paying close attention to your order. During your distraction you could not communicate exactly what you want.  Plus, the barista doesn't know if you are talking to them or the person on the phone.   Just pause your telephone conversation for a few moments to concentrate and efficiently communicate your order to the barista. "


Sarah: "No. I would suggest stepping out of line to finish your call, or asking the person on the other end of your call to please hold.  When you are trying to place an order while talking on the phone you are not only holding up your order, but you are holding up the entire bar.   Think of it this way, if you were to walk into a coffee shop with another person would you continue to talk to the person beside you and not acknowledge the barista.  Probably not, but this is essentially what you are doing when you continue to talk to the individual on the phone and ignore the barista."



Can  I ask for off-menu items?

Caty: "Of course! Everyone has a different palate and it is understandable that everything on the menu might not be quite what they are looking for. It's fun when a customer orders something that I haven't ever tried before, it could become a featured drink."



Jason: "If you don't see an item on the menu that you would like approach the barista by saying, " The drink I usually get is _____( insert the drink you want)."  By approaching off menu items this way you allow the barista an opportunity to offer suggestions on similar items and give you exactly what you are asking for. "


Sarah: "Absolutely! Feel free to ask for off menu items, but just be prepared for the answer to be no."


What do I do if I don't like my beverage?

Caty: "Most places will offer to refund your drink or to make you a new one, either the same thing or something different. I like to offer a new drink instead of just a refund, because you came to the shop for some kind of beverage, so you should be leaving with one that you like. "


  Jason: "If you don't like your beverage tell the barista.   The barista wants to please you. "



Sarah: "A misconception people often have is if they don't like something they can't complain about it.  However, respectfully complaining about your beverage can do a great service to the bar.  You not only can make the beverage better for yourself, but it also benefits everyone else who orders that particular drink in the future." 



Should I expect you to remember "my usual"?

Caty: "That depends on the barista. I can pick up on a drink normally after about three or four times if the person is getting the same thing. It really helps if the customer is coming in around the same time of day as well."


Jason: "It is a reasonable expectation for the barista to remember your drink and nuances of your drink if you are a regular customer. "


Sarah: Expectation may be the wrong word.  However, it really is easy to associate someone with a drink, especially if he/she is ordering the same drink day after day.  Baristas are proud of knowing someone's drink, but remember everyone has bad days.  So if we don't remember your usual one day it may just be we are having a bad day or training a new employee, etc. "


 How long can I expect to wait for my drink?

Caty: "It depends on what you order. My shop is technically more commercial, I try to keep it with more of a third wave feel to it. Espresso based drinks typically take about 3-4 minutes, our alternate brewing methods for coffee can take 4-5 minutes."


Jason: "Be prepared to wait as long as it takes to make the drink.  The barista is working to deliver a quality beverage that exceeds your expectations.   Also, be cognizant if your beverage is being hand-crafted by a manual pour method. If so you should be prepared to wait a little more. "


Sarah:  "This is tough one.  In the perfect world no one should feel like they are waiting.  So in the perfect world I would say you should be waiting no more than 3 minutes.  However, this doesn't always happen.  You should allow yourself enough time.  We all commute at the same time and everyone wants their drink fast and the baristas behind the bar wants to get your drink to you quickly too. " 



What is appropriate amount?

Caty: "Honestly, anything helps. If you really liked the experience it is very nice to give a little more, because that helps the barista feel accomplished and appreciated."


Jason" "There is no standard tipping when it comes to coffee.  My suggestion is about 50 cents for a $2 cup of coffee.  Again, if your beverage is being hand poured it requires about a 5 or 6 minute labor process so a $1 tip may be more reasonable. Creating coffee is a tipping based service. "


Sarah: "Tipping is big part of baristas' wages.  I believe tipping should be earned, but I also feel that tipping should follow the 20 percent rule, at minimum."


Should I tip before receiving my drink?

Caty: "Generally I would because of how the flow of most coffee shops goes, it can be easier that way. But afterwards isn't frowned upon either, we just enjoy the recognition."


Jason:  " I prefer when customers tip after receiving drink.  It encourages the barista to focus on quality customer service." 


Sarah:  "Personally I tip after I have received the drink.   I think it is motivating to the barista.  However, it just depends on the relationship with barista."  


Hanging out

How do I grasp the atmosphere (quiet, lively)?

Caty: "Most places are going to be busier in the morning, so they do tend to be loud. If you are looking for quieter, I would recommend coming by in the later afternoon or evening."


Jason: " To grasp the atmosphere of the shop visit beforehand to gather a feel.  Or you could call ahead of time and ask the employees." 


Sarah: "If you feel uncomfortable doing something in a bar you probably shouldn't be doing it.  If you notice it is a quiet place then put headphones in or take calls outside.   Pick a shop that fits what you want."  


What do I do if all the tables are "common" tables, can I sit beside someone?

Caty: "Some shops have small bars to sit at, that is always acceptable to next to someone. If you want to sit at a table with a stranger, just ask them if it would be ok. Lots of people that hang out are pretty chill. "


Jason: "It is OK to sit next to someone in a coffee shop, especially if all the tables are common tables."


Sarah:  "Absolutely.   I would recommend just politely asking if the seat is taken.  I feel that shops with common tables are the best kind of coffee shops.   Coffee shops were made for community.  It is a place to network and serves as a social hub to find people living and working in your neighborhood.   You are able to have friendly conversations with no expectation."


How long is appropriate to use the WiFi?

Caty: "A few hours is fine. We implement a rule that you purchase something first though, I think is a common courtesy."


Jason" Be courteous to the business.  It is a respected assumption that you will purchase 1 drink an hour for the duration you use the WiFi service.  Or about $3.50 spend per hour."


Sarah: "I would say half an hour or 45 minutes.  Remember the coffee shop is a business.  If you don't have an office, and plan on using the shop as your office for a few hours ask if it is OK.   They may say no, but they may say yes. " 


Can I sit and read my new novel for 5 hours?

Caty: "If you really want to, I don't see why not. Again, we would just ask that you buy something if you are going to use our space. "


Jason: "Yes you can, but it isn't very respectful.   The coffee shop is a business trying to sell beverages; if you are using their space to read your novel they could be potentially losing money. "


Sarah: "Again, just remember it is a business and you are taking up space when you sit and read your novel. You could always ask if it would be OK if you sat and read your novel."



I don't see a dish bin, what do I do with my dishes?

Caty: "It would be acceptable to leave them at the table, otherwise it can be a nice gesture to bring them up to the front counter."

Jason:  "If you do not see a dish bin simply ask the staff what to do with your dirty dishes.   They will be able to assist you. "

Sarah:  "Just ask.  Or I look for a sink or pile of dishes where everyone else has confusedly put their dirty dishes at. "



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